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Byron Shire
June 18, 2024

Happiness not economics should be the judge

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Traditional celebrations in Bhutan. Photo Lara McKinley.
Traditional celebrations in Bhutan. Photo Lara McKinley.

Imagine a world where it wasn’t the economic imperative that dominated the world but rather one where your happiness, and that of other peoples was the key to measuring success?

For the small land locked country of Bhutan, located within the Himalaya mountain range, this is the exactly the world they have been creating for the last 40 years. In 1979 the fourth King of Bhutan declared that ‘Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product’ and government have used GNH (Gross National Happiness) rather than the GNP (Gross National Product) to measure their success since.

Inspired by a trip to Bhutan as part of a professional development program, Felicity Blake is now bringing the executive director of the centre for Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, Dr Saamdu Chetri, to Mullumbimby to share his insights on the development of the GNH approach. He is also speaking in Sydney and Melbourne.

‘Gross national happiness sounds quite cute, but it’s a thoroughly serious approach to governance,’ said Felicity.

‘Essentially it’s about ensuring that the way a community, a country, is run will create conditions that enable its people to experience happiness and wellbeing.’

Happiness over economics

Bhutanese youth. Photo Lara McKinley.
Bhutanese youth. Photo Lara McKinley.

Highlighting governments ‘obsession’ with economic considerations as measured by the GDP above all other measures Felicity believes that ‘Now is a great time to explore evolutions in economic and political systems.

‘We’re witnessing a crisis: our elections are resulting in schismatic stalemates and hung parliaments. We keep electing plutocrats to run countries, as if they are corporations. Outside the oasis of progressive thought which is Byron shire, things are getting ugly. So we need to ask: what’s next?’

Recognising that GNH is no panacea, but a tool towards an outcome, Felicity is looking to the Byron shire to lead the way forward with a more wholistic approach to governance. In this model the economic success becomes one element along with health, education, the environment, living standards, good governance and cultural resilience that are used to measure the success of a country.

‘We currently have an opportunity to connect directly with Bhutan’s GNH community to explore how we can swap ideas,’ continued Felicity.

‘As always, we’re at the leading edge of alternative lifestyle and progressive change. We could establish a sister shire relationship, or organise a school visit. We could allow the “pillars” of GNH to inform the development philosophy of this area. We actually have a surprising amount in common with Bumthang province, like concerns about the impact of tourism, and an obsession with pot-holes.’

None-the-less not every road to happiness is without its challenges and Bhutan has had its fair share with many Nepalese immigrants, who had come to the country in the 1950s to live and work, leaving the country in the 1990s in fear of their lives and becoming refugees.

Dr Chetri, himself of Nepalese decent, has stated that rather than being expelled by the Bhutanese they were threatened by their own leaders and forced to leave the country under threat of beheading – that they would ‘go short by six inches’.

Rather, he claims that the King was attempting to integrate the Nealese

‘There were even incentives for either of Lhotsampa female or male marrying one from the north. The incentive were money and five acres of land. The Fourth King desired for a peaceful Bhutan knowing that a country can only be happy if it was integrated.’

Though the Nepalese and Bhutanese governments have attempted a joint verification of refugees to return to Bhutan the majority that left the country have now been resettled in third countries.

If you would like to learn more about the Bhutanese GNH measure Dr Chetri will be speaking at the Civic Hall in Mullumbimby on Saturday June 24 6:30pm. It is a gold coin donation, however numbers are limited so book online here.


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